Ask the Board – February 6, 2017 | THOMAS KUNKA

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As exterior LED displays become appropriate for more and more applications, what kind of innovation do you see on the horizon in terms of reinforcing your brand?”


Outdoor deployment is one of the least discussed aspects of digital signage in higher education. This may be surprising given the normalization occurring in LED display technology, increased robustness in conventional displays, players and enclosures and the growing pervasiveness of our technology infrastructures. The march of technology has helped grow our signage networks in terms of size and capability in response to the skyrocketing demands from campus units for new, innovative and cost-effective digital signage solutions.

As campuses master the delivery of IT services to interior spaces, they are increasingly addressing the need to bring core services such as wireless network access to outdoor spaces. It would be reasonable to think that digital signage would naturally follow suit but reality would suggest otherwise. Could it be that issues involving outdoor deployments may be more complex than that of indoor? Absolutely.

At some point, most things become subject to questions of context and scope. Digital signage in the campus environment is largely driven by the need to deliver information to an audience within the context of a physical location. A student dining facility may install digital signage in order to deliver content related to the upcoming menus. An academic department may install digital signage to deliver messages about programs, important dates, events and to highlight the accomplishments of alumni. In the environments in which I have worked, the “scope” of most campus units is limited to interior spaces.

A given college, department or unit is generally assigned to specific spaces (building or portions of buildings), and within reason and budgetary constraints, can modify that space – often including the installation of digital displays. Each institution has its own approach to facility management and digital signage, of course, but the general idea is that once outside the confines of building interiors, finding suitable technology and supplying it with power may be the easy part.

Modifications of outdoor spaces require a higher level of approval/buy-in than do modifications to interior spaces. There are more policies to navigate, more players at the table and more long-terms big-picture questions regarding branding, building standards and responsibility. Working as I do in a very large and historically decentralized environment, I am thankful for this. Adoption of outdoor digital signage has been very slow and, for the most part, limited to specific use cases in athletic venues that are not currently a part of the scope of digital signage services on our campus.

One department on my campus to date has been interested in an outdoor interactive kiosk as part of a large Japanese garden sitting far away from the main campus, a very specific and niche use. None, so far, have wanted to turn the exterior of their buildings into multimedia billboards. Of course, the first may always be just a phone call away … and with modern architecture and the increasing affordability of large displays, who is to say that a video wall built indoors can’t also be visible to those outside looking in from the quad through walls made of nothing but glass. More than anything, my take on outdoor is to let the use cases emerge in a tempered way, evaluate them on a case-by-case basis and not implement technology for technology’s sake.

Even for applications such as campus-level wayfinding, the driver should never be the availability or even the normalization of technology. One must have buy-in at the campus-level, a content strategy, a clear support model, and above all, commitment. The worst thing I can imagine for a campus brand would be to have prospective students and their families arrive for their tour of campus to find a network of random outdoor displays with dark screens. Luckily, I haven’t seen or heard of such situations. The saying, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” applies. Perhaps we instinctively know what things will and will not work in academia?

About Author

Senior Application Specialist
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

FORMER MEMBER OF THE DSE ADVISORY BOARD
End User Council

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